I love YACHT. I love them with my whole face. Let's just get that out in the open before I analyze them as musicians, shall we? Great. OK. Here's the background info: YACHT is the brainchild of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, and professes to be a "Band, Belief, and Business" on their website. The name of the band comes from the Y.A.C.H.T. school in Portland, Ore. (where both Bechtolt and Evans are currently based), and where Bechtolt was enrolled as a teenager. It stands for Young Americans Challenging Higher Technology, which is an appropriate namesake for a band that today uses new technology in its live show and online catalogue raisonné. There's video, performance, handbooks for "Overcoming Humanity and Becoming Your Own God," text, and, of course, the music.
Yesterday it was hot out on the dust-covered Auditorium Shores, along Austin's south bank. The band, which yesterday comprised of Evans, Bechtolot, Katy Davidson (in the background of the above picture), Bobby Birdman (Rob Kieswetter), and Jeffrey Brodsky, were all dressed in black, minus Evans, who looked Annie Lennox-icious in glowing white. She is one of the most compelling lead singers I've ever seen. She and Davidson blew through a B-52s cover, with appropriately wailing harmony and lots of robotic dance moves from Evans. As musicians, YACHT are extremely talented (Davidson in particular knocked my socks off), but it's as performers that they are most adventurous. Yesterday was a straightforward Watch-Claire-Make-Strange-Movements-To-The-Music show, but in the past YACHT have been known to have elaborate PowerPoint presentations going during shows, or to create and perform hour-long Internet Radio programs.
It was strange to see such a prolific, message-oriented band condensed into a 45-minute performance, but it was good enough for Ryan Gosling, and it was good enough for me. —Katie Presley
Alt-country is one of those genres that occasionally puts me on guard: Because it's such a large and welcoming label, there's a better chance that what's included isn't that great (Blues Hammer, anyone?) Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards, though, do the label justice. Frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom writes music that, like the best country songs, straddle heartache with the humor needed to keep going, and sings them with a honky-tonk commanding alto. On Friday the crowd was treated to a set fitting the bright-sun setting instead of ballads for a lonely bar stool. We heard several new songs, including one called "Arrow Killed the Beast," from a forthcoming 2012 album, and Austin local Heidi Johnson came onstage to do supporting vocals and percussion. Fans of Neko Case and the Old 97s should definitely seek the Heartless Bastards out, if they're not already on your radar. —Kjerstin Johnson
The Thermals are just really feel-good. From their music to their Twitter feed, they keep things light-hearted but speak serious, too. Especially live, the formidable trio's songs about redemption, survival, and the current political climate reach the heart of their audience, but not without a smile and a fist-pump. Their show Friday was no different. With boundless energy, Hutch Harris strained into the mic, Kathy Foster bounced around stage on bass, and Westin Glass played enthusiastically behind the drumkit. They opened with "When I Died," which, out of their many anthemic, powerchord sing-alongs, is a particularly great show-opener. They played several songs off their 2006 release (and maybe most political) The Body, The Blood, The Machine. At one point Kathy remarked, "We need another president we want to assassinate before we sing that song," (see what I mean about being light-hearted?), and Hutch repped Portland well by wearing a t-shirt of former labelmates (and forever wonderful) Explode Into Colors. The stage lights flickered fruitlessly in the bright sun as they wrapped up their show, only to play one later at midnight, at The Parish. —KJ
Photos by Katie Presley